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Patient Story

Meet: Bill Wohl

  • Age: 52 (at implant)
  • Diagnosis: Ischemic cardiomyopathy
  • SynCardia Total Artificial Heart implant date: Sept.16, 1999
  • Transplant date: Feb. 22, 2000
  • Time on SynCardia's Total Artificial Heart: 159 days
  • Residence: Scottsdale, Arizona
  • Hospital: University Medical Center
  • Surgeon: Dr. Jack Copeland

Overworked and Overweight

I was a high profile Scottsdale, AZ, businessman riding in the fast lane before heart failure stopped me in my tracks. I was a former collegiate and professional athlete who lived my business, BMW Systems, LLC. A family-owned business that specialized in residential and commercial Satellite, Audio/Video, Home Theatre and Electronics, it became my main priority. BMW's client list was first cabin with the likes of the King of Saudi Arabia, Michael Jordan, Don King, Charles Barkley and Paul Allen just to name a few.

My company worked world events like the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, 1998 Paris World Cup, NBA and MLB games and championship fights. Overweight, stressed, working way too much, this was my American dream of success.

On Easter Sunday 1999, it all screeched to a halt after 7 hours of suffering at home with what I thought was food poisoning. I later found out it had been a massive heart attack caused by two 100% blockages. An emergency angioplasty and two stents later, my life had been saved but my heart muscle had extreme damage and was left with about 15% functionality.

Too Sick for a Transplant

My doctors told me I needed a heart transplant but at this point my health was so minimal I was not acceptable to be listed for a new heart. From March through September 1999, my life was spent going in and out of the hospital seventeen times. On Sept. 13, 1999, I was taken from a Scottsdale hospital to University Medical Center (UMC) in Tucson as all my organs were failing and shutting down.

That week my company was completing a new system for ASU Football at Sun Devil Stadium and the ICA building. Hoping to save my life, that night at UMC, my surgeons removed my native heart and implanted a SynCardia temporary Total Artificial Heart. The Total Artificial Heart at this point was part of a clinical study prior to FDA approval in 2004.

The high rate of flow of the Total Artificial Heart helped me improve my health over time. As my organ function improved, I gradually got stronger. I started taking daily trips to cardiac rehabilitation and the hospital gym, hoping to reach the basic core values of health to be listed for a heart transplant.

Blessed with the Best Donor Heart

After 159 days on the Total Artificial Heart and many misadventures with infections and two thoracotomies, I not only survived but improved to be good candidate for a successful heart transplant. On Feb. 22, 2000, God and my donor family blessed me with a great donor heart. I spent one more week at UMC and then the remainder of the next two months as an outpatient.

On April 22, 2000, I drove home to Phoenix to celebrate my daughter Jennifer's 18th birthday. All of my values and cares were changing with my new “Gift of Life."

Meeting My Donor’s Family

Six months after my life-saving transplant, I received a letter from my donor’s family with an obituary and photo of my donor. 36-year-old Brady Michaels was a Hollywood actor/aerial stuntman who had a freak accident while preparing for a TV reality show stunt in Benson, AZ. I was so blessed to receive a super healthy donor heart for my second chance at life. That winter, I got to meet Brady's parents and then his brother Chris and many of my donor's skydiving and TV friends.

How can you ever thank someone and their family for the Gift of Life? During summer 2008 in Pittsburgh at the National Kidney Foundation US Transplant Games, I spent a special week with my donor’s parents, Stan & Paula Brady. I had the opportunity to present each of Brady's parents with the first two gold medals I won that week.

A New Life

Today, I compete almost monthly in open competitions, accumulating more than 100 medals and awards. Some include world class triathlons like "The Escape From Alcatraz" and the San Francisco International Triathlon among others. Beginning in 2002, I started competing in transplant games competitions one or two times each year. I have won multiple medals in the World Games competing in France, Canada, Thailand and Australia. In National Transplant Games competitions, I have amassed 28 gold championships in Track, Swimming and Cycling, competing in 4 U.S. games, 2 Canadian and 2 in Australia.

I am one of 60 members of Team SynCardia, a cycling group consisting of friends and supporters of SynCardia Systems, Inc. Each year, I look forward to riding with the doctors that helped save my life, SynCardia Co-Founder and surgeon Dr. Jack Copeland and SynCardia Chairman and interventional cardiologist Dr. Marvin Slepian.

How do you say thank you for the Gift of Life? Without the Total Artificial Heart and the team of doctors at UMC, I wouldn’t be alive today. I am so blessed just to be around, much less travel the world. I am always working hard to show people that transplantation not only works, it creates a second chance at life.

FOX TV - "The Gift Of Life... And Then Some"

This Emmy Award-winning feature highlights the story of Bill Wohl, Total Artificial Heart recipient and transplant games athlete.

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Bill Wohl, post-transplant, promoting organ donation awareness with his partner Jane Tucker.Bill Wohl, post-transplant, promoting organ donation awareness with his partner Jane Tucker.

 

Bill Wohl spent 159 days on the Total Artificial Heart at University Medical Center in Tucson, Arizona.Bill Wohl spent 159 days on the Total Artificial Heart at University Medical Center in Tucson, Arizona.

 

Bill received his donor heart from 36-year-old Hollywood stuntman Brady Michaels.Bill received his donor heart from 36-year-old Hollywood stuntman Brady Michaels.

 

Bill presents one of his gold medals to his donor's parents, Stan and Paula Brady, at the U.S. Transplant Games in August 2008.Bill presents one of his gold medals to his donor's parents, Stan and Paula Brady, at the U.S. Transplant Games in August 2008.

 

Bill became a competitive athlete in cycling, swimming and running after his donor heart transplant.Bill became a competitive athlete in cycling, swimming and running after his donor heart transplant.

 

Today, Bill competes in Transplant Games around the world.Today, Bill competes in Transplant Games around the world.

 

Bill with the two doctors that saved his life: cardiologist Dr. Marvin Slepian (left) and surgeon Dr. Jack Copeland, at the 2007 El Tour de Tucson cycling race.Bill with the two doctors that saved his life: cardiologist Dr. Marvin Slepian (left) and surgeon Dr. Jack Copeland, at the 2007 El Tour de Tucson cycling race.

 

Bill and his partner Jane Tucker at the 2009 El Tour de Tucson.Bill and his partner Jane Tucker at the 2009 El Tour de Tucson.

 

 

 

NEXT ›› Giuseppe Nicotera's Story 
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*The SynCardia temporary Total Artificial Heart was formerly known as the
SynCardia temporary CardioWest™ Total Artificial Heart.

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